June 6, 2014 - Exceldor and Parrish & Heimbecker, Limited have announced that they have signed a definitive agreement under which Exceldor will acquire P&H Foods. Included in the transaction are the primary turkey processing plant located in Hanover, Ontario, and a joint venture interest in Golden Valley Farms consisting of a further processing plant located in Arthur, Ontario. P&H Foods produces and sells products under the Butterball brand in Canada under a licensing agreement with Butterball, LLC, headquartered in Garner, North Carolina. The transaction is expected to close in the third Quarter of the current calendar year, shortly after required regulatory approvals are received. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
“The acquisition of P&H Foods gives us the opportunity not only to expand our operations outside the Province of Quebec, but also integrate Butterball to our portfolio of existing brands in Canada,” said René Proulx, Exceldor’s President and Chief Executive Officer in a press release. As a result of this acquisition, Exceldor will have revenues in excess of $625 million and its products will be sold across Canada.
Proulx says the company is excited about the growth opportunities it foresees with the Butterball brand, positioning Exceldor to be the market leader in the turkey processing industry in Canada. He notes that employees of P&H Foods will be retained.
Paul Borg, President of P&H Foods said in the joint press release that P&H is pleased to be joining Exceldor and thanked the Board of Directors at Parrish & Heimbecker, Limited for the consistent support and direction they have provided to P&H Foods over the past 31 years.
About Exceldor Cooperative
Exceldor is a cooperative whose mission is to produce poultry its customers can serve with pride. The organization, headquartered in Levis (Quebec), employs more than 1400 people and generates 500 M$ in revenues. Exceldor divides production between its Quebec plants in Saint-Damase, Saint-Anselme, Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville and Saint-Agapit. Its facilities are among the most modern in North America. Every week, Exceldor processes 1.4 million chickens and turkeys for the retail, food service and secondary processing markets.
About Parrish & Heimbecker, Limited
Parrish and Heimbecker, Limited is a private, family owned business, founded in 1909. It is involved in many aspects of agri-business including grain procurement and merchandising, milling, animal nutrition programs, poultry farming and food processing.
June 6, 2014 - Egg Farmers of Canada handed a $10,000 cheque to Food Banks Canada after hosting a successful, popular Downtown Diner in Ottawa yesterday.
Egg Farmers of Canada's 1950's-inspired diner served delicious egg sandwiches created by Marc Doiron of local restaurant Town to Members of Parliament, Senators, Hill staffers and the public, accepting donations to Food Banks Canada. Farmers from across Canada were on hand to discuss the success of their industry and the system of supply management, which allows them to deliver Canadians fresh, local, high-quality eggs every day.
"As Canadian egg farmers, we honour the social license we have to operate and work hard to be able to give back to our communities and Canadian society writ large," said Peter Clarke, Chairman of Egg Farmers of Canada. "People who came to our Downtown Diner have been incredibly generous and we are very proud to be able to make this donation to our long-time partner Food Banks Canada."
Egg Farmers of Canada has been collaborating with Food Banks Canada for more than two decades, and last year alone, more than one million eggs were donated to the organization.
Now in its fourth decade as one of Canada's leading agriculture organizations, Egg Farmers of Canada manages the national egg supply and promotes egg consumption while representing the interests of regulated egg farmers from coast to coast. For more information visit www.eggfarmers.ca.
Food Banks Canada supports a unique network of over 3,000 food-related organizations in every province and territory that assists close to 850,000 Canadians each month. Together our network shares over 200 million pounds of essential safe quality food annually, provides social programs that help to foster self-sufficiency, and advocates for policy change that will help create a Canada where no one goes hungry. Visit foodbankscanada.ca for more information.
May 28, 2014 - Canada's first graduate program in meat science will be housed out of the University of Alberta.
A $1.6 million grant will be used to fund the Canadian Meat Education and Training Network (MEaTnet), a virtual organization made up of the U of A, Université Laval, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Guelph. The organization will be based at the U of A but will develop a shared graduate studies curriculum between all four universities. The network estimates it will produce 50 grads over the next six years and aims to have formal meat science graduate programs at all four partner universities by 2020.
Read more about the new program here.
May 21, 2014 - Come this July, your ability to use email as a marketing or fundraising tool will be significantly restricted. Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) comes into effect July 1, 2014, and with it some of the world’s strictest anti-spam rules. For a better idea of how these new rules will affect your email marketing campaigns to both consumers and other businesses, download the Anti-spam Toolkit or a checklist for CASL-compliant email marketing.
At Canadian Poultry, we are working hard to comply with these new regulations. As part of that, we need you to renew your subscription to this e-newsletter in the coming days to ensure we can continue sending it. Please take a minute to keep the news coming by confirming your interest at canadianpoultrymag.com/confirm
It’s a message that we hear repeated often: interest in farming from the public has never been higher than it is right now.
This interest is fueled by many factors, including the local food movement, health awareness, economics, and concern for the environment and animal care.
Overall, interest in farming can be considered a good thing — consumers have been disengaged with how food is produced and the many challenges farmers and food industries face for too long. The opportunity for engagement is great, and consumers are willing to learn and listen.
Unfortunately for the poultry industry, the message consumers are hearing lately is not a positive one. Undercover animal activist videos portraying improper handling of turkey breeders, pullets and broiler chicks has gained national media attention and rattled retailers.
Of course the videos are meant to be sensational and promote the mandate of Mercy for Animals, the activist group behind them. But they point to several issues, like it or not, that need further discussion and consideration.
When such videos are released, industry goes into defense mode and says that animal care protocols are in place and should be adhered to; if not, employees are reprimanded and/or fired. This is true, but are employees being watched all of the time, and if so, who is responsible for this monitoring? Do employees have a complete understanding of what is expected with respect to animal welfare? Ultimately, it lies with the farm or business owner, and its importance needs to be made clear.
The Farm & Food Care Foundation (FFC) emphasizes having an animal care code of conduct for your farm or business in writing, and be willing to enforce it (information on developing your own code of conduct is available on our website www.canadianpoultrymag.com, in the article “Employees Handling Animals?”).
Industry also points to national guidelines, the Codes of Practice for Poultry, which are currently being updated (the current Codes were written in 2003). These guidelines are being coordinated by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), an organization made up of a diverse stakeholder group that consists of government, enforcement, animal welfare and farmer representatives. The NFACC has been reviewing and updating eight national animal welfare codes since 2010 and six are complete — but poultry is not one of these. Federal funding (provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) has lapsed and the application for renewed funding is currently stalled.
This is unfortunate because it gives activists fodder to argue that government and industry don’t care about poultry welfare.
Although the Canadian poultry industry has been a leader amongst livestock industries in terms of developing its own animal care programs, it is open to criticism from pundits that the programs are self-serving. Having an updated code of practice from what is perceived as a third-party interest group (the NFACC) will add an additional level of transparency.
Hopefully funding will resume and the new code will be available by the end of the year. In the meantime, industry needs to focus on ensuring that existing practices are adhered to at all times, because when lapses are caught on camera nobody wins.
May 7, 2014, Ottawa, Ont. - The Pullet Growers of Canada (PGC) is disappointed with the decision by Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, that PGC not be granted Part 2 Agency Status under the Farm Products Agencies Act of Canada, but PGC remains firmly committed to developing a stable and sustainable future for Canadian pullet growers.
"This has been a long and involved process. This is the right time for PGC to come under supply management and would have been a positive change for Canadian pullet growers," said Andy DeWeerd, PGC Chair. "Achieving agency status would have stabilized the pullet industry and allowed us to be proactive - instead of reactive - in implementing national programs on cost of production, disease control, HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points] and housing standards, among many others."
This decision comes after more than four years of organizational preparations by the PGC as they proceeded step by step through the legal process of applying for Agency Status to include pullets in the supply management marketing system. Pullets are the day-old chicks raised to 19 weeks that become layer hens. Pullets are currently the only part of the poultry system that is not in supply management.
A successful application would have given PGC the required legal powers to represent and make decisions on behalf of member provincial pullet grower organizations on issues related to cost of production, disease control and animal welfare, among many other issues facing the industry. Stable pricing under supply management would have allowed pullet growers to reinvest in their farms and address social and environmental responsibilities to the standards expected by Canadians with consistent national programs.
"We have come too far to just give up," says DeWeerd. "Now is the time to regroup, examine our options and forge ahead. The status quo simply doesn't work anymore and one way or another, PGC will lead Canadian pullet growers into a stable future."
April 30, 2014 - The Egg Farmers of Alberta (EFA) has announced that the application window for the New Entrant Program (NEP) is now open, giving individuals the chance to become Alberta’s newest egg farmer.
The New Entrant Program was established in order to assist individuals and families who want to own and operate an egg farm in Alberta, by alleviating some of the producer’s start-up costs. NEP quota will be issued at no cost to the successful applicant(s).
To be eligible for EFA’s NEP, the following criteria must be met. The applicant:
- must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada;
- must be a permanent resident of Alberta;
- Not be a current or past quota holder
All applications will be reviewed for eligibility and evaluated by a selection committee. Quota will be issued in lots of up to 1,500 birds. If the total number of qualified candidates exceeds the number of lots available, a draw will be held to determine the NEP allotment.
To apply, interested parties must complete and submit a New Entrant Plan application form to the EFA Board of Directors, along with a comprehensive business plan and a $1,000 fee. For more information, NEP information packages are available online (www.eggs.ab.ca/NEP). Applicants can submit their application form, business plan and fee via mail, or in person at the EFA office. Applications will be accepted from April 30, 2014 until June 27, 2014.
April 21, 2014 - Egg Farmers of (EFC) today announced a new campaign showcasing the "Natural Goodness" of Canadian eggs. The new campaign features eggs as a natural choice, which consumer research revealed to be very important.
April 21, 2014 - The Farm & Food Care Foundation, a charity with a mandate to enhance public trust in food and farming across Ontario, has received a five-year pledge of $75,000 from New-Life Mills. The announcement was made at the annual meeting of Farm & Food Care in Milton on April 16.
In making the announcement, Bruce Christie, chair of the Foundation, said, "This donation by New-Life Mills is a direct reflection of the company's long-time commitment to Canadian agriculture and its farmers. Contributions like this are so significant. They will help our foundation further its work of improving awareness and understanding about food and farming which can only help to make our industry stronger."
Nadine Schwandt, General Manager Feed Division, said, "New-Life Mills has been a long time member and supporter of Farm & Food Care's initiatives. With this investment in the Foundation, we're looking to play a bigger role in promoting agriculture to Canadians, and to ensure that accurate information about farming and farm practices is available. We view Farm & Food Care to be both proactive and a credible resource in its efforts to promote public trust in food production and farming."
Bill Revington, General Manager Farm Division with New-Life Mills supports the donation as well, saying, "We think it's important for Canadians to understand where their food comes from and how it's raised. We heartily support the initiatives of Farm & Food Care because we feel they promote agriculture while communicating an interest in food and feed quality, animal welfare, sustainable farming and corporate responsibility. We look forward to continuing to work with Farm & Food Care on these issues. "
Each year over the five year agreement, representatives of the Foundation and New-Life Mills will meet to determine funding priorities. In 2014, the funds will be put towards the creation of a third edition of the award-winning publication, The Real Dirt on Farming. The funding will support both development of the booklet and a new Speakers Bureau component that will match farmers with urban audiences interested in learning more about Canadian food and farming.
New-Life Mills, a division of Parrish & Heimbecker Ltd., is a proud Canadian-owned manufacturer of livestock and poultry feed and a producer of eggs, chicken, turkey.
The USDA definition of sustainability applies the following five principles to an integrated system of plant and animal production practices: human and fibre needs are satisfied, the environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends is enhanced, nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources are used most efficiently, the economic viability of farm operations is sustained, and the quality of life for society as a whole is enhanced.
Crystal McKay, executive director of Food and Farm Care, recently wrote an excellent opinion piece entitled “The Sustainable Food, Animal Welfare Balance” that appeared in the Grimsby Lincoln News where she says, “when having a discussion or considering making changes to any food production or farm practices, all five principles need to be given fair and practical consideration.”
However, the average Canadian (who has limited, if any knowledge of farming practices) often tends to focus on the information provided by those not involved in the business of farming. As McKay points out, “one of the biggest challenges with having a conversation with the average Canadian about farming is their perceptions or questions are often based on issues, what’s been in the media or what they’ve ‘heard’ somewhere.”
Although animal welfare is not mentioned directly in the USDA’s definition of sustainability, it is an integral part as it is related to the economic viability of a farm. Special interest anti-agriculture groups use strong, emotionally charged visuals to get their anti-confinement message instant news coverage. Unfortunately, this is a great influence on consumers’ perception of farming and is in large part driving retailers to demand that rearing practices change.
But the big question that looms in the welfare-retail situation is are consumers willing to pay for the changes that they are driving indirectly? Our cover story (page 12) details a University of Guelph study that tries to tackle this question and gain more understanding of consumer behavior.
The results are very interesting. Although respondents’ knowledge of animal production was limited, consumers “are sensitive to information about housing systems” and believe that scientific evidence should be used when determining how farm animals are raised. While the respondents valued the presence of dust baths, nest boxes and perches, they are also sensitive to the word “cage”, indicating that this word should be avoided when explaining enriched colony housing, often referred to in the industry as “enriched cages”.
As concluded in the study, it’s therefore important for egg producers (and industry) to communicate well with consumers. Retailers need this information as well. As McKay says, “it’s not normal practice for the animal welfare specialist to consult with the food affordability or food safety experts when making recommendations on what’s best for hen welfare. Individual companies make announcements or use one of the principles in the spectrum as a short-term marketing advantage.”
She concludes by emphasizing that such practice needs to change in order “to truly embrace sustainable food and farming in Canada.”
Sustainability is more than just a buzzword, and it’s important that one of its principles doesn’t take precedence over another. As McKay correctly points out, “it is important to emphasize that the five principles are all linked together and changing one can have either a positive or negative influence on the other four.”
April 4, 2014 - Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) is once again giving individuals an opportunity to become Ontario's newest egg farmer by applying to the 2014 New Entrant Quota Loan Pool (NEQLP). Applications will be accepted from April 1, 2014 until May 30, 2014.
The NEQLP is designed to encourage new farmers into the Ontario egg farming business. Each year, up to 10,000 units of quota will be loaned to the successful applicant(s). The quota will be loaned based on a 1:2 ratio (1 unit purchased, 2 loaned). After 10 years, the loaned quota will be returned to EFO in 10 annual installments (10% each) and will be loaned to future participants in the program.
To be eligible for EFO's 2014 New Entrant Quota Loan Pool, an applicant must:
- Be a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant;
- Be a permanent resident of Ontario;
- Not have held quota, currently or in the past, of any type in the supply-managed sector (egg, pullet, chicken, turkey, dairy or hatching eggs);
- Successful applicants will be required to purchase to match the quota loan, based on a 1:2 ratio;
- Priority will be given to persons between the ages of 18 and 45.
Applicants who meet the above criteria will be reviewed by a selection committee comprised of well-respected and knowledgeable industry representatives and EFO will act as a resource for the committee. Committee members are selected by EFO and may include:
- An accountant;
- A financial representative;
- An OMAFRA staff person;
- A non-director egg farmer and
- A representative from Junior Farmers Association of Ontario
To apply, interested individuals must complete and submit an application form (available through EFO or at www.eggfarmersofontario.ca/news-events). Successful applicants must complete and file with EFO all documentation required of a buyer as set out in the Quota Transfer System (QTS), EFO Policies, Programs and Procedures as may be amended from time to time. Applications will be accepted from April 1, 2014 to May 30, 2014.
March 28, 2014 - On March 18, 2014, the annual general meeting of the Pullet Growers of Canada (PGC) held their elections, gave an update on their quest for Agency status and introduced a draft of Canada's first Animal Care Policy for Pullets.
The PGC leadership was unchanged with the re-election of Andy DeWeerd (Ont.) as Chair, Carl Bouchard (Que.) as Central Director and Vice-Chair, Cal Dirks (Man.) as Western Director and Treasurer and Marc Ouellet (N.B.) as Eastern Director and Secretary. Jeff Clarke (N.S.) was later elected to the Production Management Committee of Egg Farmers of Canada as the pullet producer representative.
PGC is currently awaiting a decision by the Farm Products Council of Canada and the Minister of Agriculture as to whether PGC will be recommended for Part 2 Agency status, which would bring them under supply management. If the application is successful, it will give PGC the required legal powers to represent and make decisions on behalf of member provincial pullet grower organizations on issues related to cost of production, disease control, HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) programs and animal welfare, among other issues facing the industry. Stable pricing under supply management will allow pullet growers to reinvest in their farms and address social and environmental responsibilities to the standards expected by Canadians with consistent national programs.
"The time is right and PGC is fully prepared to lead Canadian pullet growers into a future that is fair and sustainable for all involved," said DeWeerd. "The status quo simply doesn't work any more."
In the coming year PGC will lead industry consultations to establish strong, measured and transparent animal care standards through the development of a national Animal Care Policy for Pullets that encompasses the full range of care, welfare, handling and transportations needs of the pullet life cycle from a one-day old chick through to 19 weeks. The policy reflects the values and commitment that Canadian pullet growers have to the animals in their care and to industry excellence.
"Developing an Animal Care Policy for Pullets is an important initiative for PGC," said DeWeerd. "Canadians expect their food to be grown in a responsible manner - and so do we as producers. This policy is going to help ensure we are all on the same page - from farm workers through to consumers."
PGC will also continue consultations with the National Farm Animal Care Council in reviewing the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets, Layers and Spent Fowl, ensuring greater specificity to the needs of pullets.
March 20, 2014- Chicken Farmers of Canada announced the election of its 2014 Executive Committee yesterday in Ottawa. The elections followed its annual general meeting. The 15-member Board of Directors, made up of farmers and other stakeholders from the chicken industry, has chosen the following representatives:
Dave Janzen, re-elected as Chair, has represented British Columbia as an alternate since 2006 and has been their director since 2008. He joined the Executive committee in 2010 and first became the Chair in 2012. His family farm in Abbotsford that he and wife Jeannie started from scratch in 1981 has been home to four Janzen kids, and is right next door to the Fraser Valley dairy farm where he grew up. Dave and his family produce nearly 1 million kg each year.
Yvon Cyr, elected as the 1st Vice-Chair, has been a chicken farmer since 1987. He produces approximately 3.3 million kg of chicken each year on his farm near Saint-François-de-Madawaska in New Brunswick. He is part of the Westco Group, which produces 16.5 million kg of chicken per year, 1.5 million kg of turkey, 80,000 breeders, 70,000 commercial laying hens and operates one hatchery. Yvon and his wife Linda have four boys.
Benoît Fontaine, from Stanbridge Station, Quebec, was elected as the 2nd Vice-Chair of the Executive Committee. He joined the Board last year as an alternate, served on the Production Committee and became the Quebec Director this year. He farms in the Lac Champlain area and raises 3 million kg of chicken, 100,000 ducks and 85,000 turkeys each year. A 2nd generation chicken farmer, Benoît has also been heavily involved in the Union des producteurs agricoles, the Quebec farmer organization, since 1999.
Vernon Froese, of Grunthal, Manitoba has been on the Chicken Farmers of Canada Board since 2012, but was an alternate prior to that. At the 2014 AGM, Vernon was elected to the Executive Committee as the Executive Member. Vernon, wife Hilda, and two sons grow over 800,000 kg of chicken each year; cash crop about 750 acres of corn and canola, and raise 12,000 feeder pigs. He has previously served on the Board’s Policy Committee.
March 13, 2014 - New Brunswick-based poultry company Groupe Westco has embarked on a project to build three new broiler houses in the De Salaberry, Manitoba area. These three 100 X 528 feet broiler houses will hold 212,000 broiler chickens representing close to 3 million kg a year and will feature the latest in heating, lighting, litter management and ventilation technologies. READ MORE
Since I hold the job title of editor I suppose it’s only natural that I pay great attention to words and their meaning.
Now that I am a mother, certain words capture my attention immediately. One of these is the word “wholesome”, particularly when it’s used in relation to food that I might feed my daughter. It’s an old-fashioned word and I can’t help but get a mental picture of June Cleaver cooking for the Beaver. If something is “wholesome”, then it must be good for you, right?
This line of thinking is what the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is relying on with a new promotion for its cage-free egg campaign. In mid-February the organization announced celebrity Canadian chef Christine Cushing has partnered with it in an effort to get Canadians to choose cage-free over conventionally raised eggs.
Cushing says in a WSPA release “when I’m cooking, I always start with the very best ingredients. And I know that raising hens in cramped cages can’t produce the best eggs. Cage-free hens have space to move around, spread their wings, and be what they are — healthy, happy chickens, producing healthy, wholesome eggs. To me, it’s a clear and easy choice.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines wholesome as follows: 1) conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being and 2) conducive to or characterized by moral well-being.
In the quote cited, how the word “wholesome” is used infers good health, even though the WSPA really means to infer that “wholesome” is a moral choice.
That’s why I take offense to Cushing’s statement, and I think egg farmers should too.
Eggs are heralded as the “gold standard” for protein and have too many nutritional benefits to list in this small space. With the exception of eggs coming from hens with access to pasture (which alters the fatty acid profile), cage-free and cage eggs are the same nutritionally (in terms of protein, vitamins, minerals, etc.).
When an organization like the WSPA uses a celebrity spokeperson to get its message across we need to take notice. Cushing has a big reach. According to her website, she has cooking shows on both the Food Network and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and is the resident chef on the Marilyn Denis show, a daily talk show on the CTV television network.
If consumers want to make the choice based on morality, that’s their personal choice, but I don’t think they should be made to believe choosing one over the other will effect their health.
It’s known that although consumers, when polled, say they will choose one type of production method over another, when push comes to shove, they often choose the cheaper option. But will they when it’s no longer a moral question but one of health?
February 19, 2014 - Celebrity Chef Christine Cushing today announced her partnership with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) to encourage consumers to "Choose Cage-Free."
The Food Network Canada star, cookbook author and entrepreneur also released a video to encourage consumers to buy eggs from hens that are raised in cage-free housing. In a press release distributed by the WPSA, Cushing says that cage-free is a "clear and easy choice." She also says cage-free is more wholesome, although provides no data to back up this claim.
The WSPA is hopeful that Cushing's "passion for this cause will help convince everyone that cage-free is the right choice," says Josey Kitson, WSPA Canada executive director.
February 7, 2014 - Today is Food Freedom Day, the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay for his/her annual grocery bill.
Food Freedom Day (FFD) is calculated yearly by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA). This year, the CFA has chosen to focus on celebrating the Canadian Value Chain and Canadian products, and it feels supporting the Canadian brand is important now more than ever.
The CFA continues to see that a strong portion of the population places great value in buying local, Canadian products. A survey sponsored by Farm Credit Canada demonstrated that 95 per cent of respondents agreed that buying locally-grown food is a priority or preference; however, only 43 percent are willing to pay more for local products.1 A study done by the George Morris Centre shows that while it has been documented that 80 per cent of consumers will choose local food over alternatives, recent research suggests that 40 is a more realistic percentage of consumers who prefer local food.2 From these reports, the CFA sees that the concept of buying local Canadian products is important to Canadians, but when it comes to making the decision at the grocery store, other priorities come into play.
Cost is often noted as a factor. While this can certainly be appreciated as budgets for many are tight, it's important to consider the larger picture. Canadian consumers enjoy a domestic food industry providing some of the lowest food costs in the world. In a 2012 comparison of food-at-home budget shares conducted by the USDA, Canada was found to spend the 3rd lowest share of their total expenditures on food in the world, behind only the US and Britain.3 According to Statistics Canada, Canadians are expected to have spent 10.6 per cent of their disposable income on food in 2013. Maintaining such low costs alongside the high labour, environmental and food safety standards Canadians value is a challenge for Canada's farmers, and they certainly welcome it when Canadians recognize these high standards, quality and the economic benefits of buying Canadian products.
For more information on Food Freedom Day, click here.
Sources:  (FCC sponsored survey, 2011: http://www.betterfarming.com/online-news/consumers-want-local-foods-are-...)  (Local Food - The Untold Story, George Morris Centre, 2007: http://www.georgemorris.org/publications/file.aspx?id=d83b5723-1334-4254...)  (Congressional Research Service Report, 2013: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40545.pdf)
Sustainability has become a buzzword in the agricultural industry. But what does it mean exactly?
The USDA defines sustainability as a way to enhance environmental quality; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources, including natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for society as a whole.
However, what’s key when talking about sustainability is economics. Yes, the end result is providing food for the population at large, but those who produce the food need the system to be economically viable in order to continue making the necessary changes required to be sustainable in terms of both maintaining production and remaining viable economically.
Animal welfare, particularly with respect to egg production and the use of gestation crates for sows, has become part of the sustainability equation. At many meetings I have been to in the past year participants have included the welfare of animals and the use of new production systems in the sustainability discussion.
This has been driven primarily by animal rights groups influencing consumers and industry, and it’s led many food companies to start demanding these animals be housed in a certain way. But the key question has always been, will consumers pay for the increased costs welfare-friendly systems incur?
In the article “A Market for Animal Welfare” (page 19), economist Jayson Lusk proposes a credit system for animal welfare that makes welfare a “purchasable commodity” and encourages consumers to buy credits to support its improvement. An interesting idea. However, how will this be measured, and who makes the rules? As Lusk correctly points out, consumers are inconsistent — although many say they will pay more for a product produced within a certain type of welfare-friendly system, the number of consumers who will actually do so is minimal. This was evident, Lusk says, during the discussion surrounding Proposition 2 in California; in that case, 63 per cent of consumers voted for a ban on conventional layer cages, but only five per cent said they were willing to pay the premium for cage-free eggs.
Despite the lack of willingness to pay, consumers and food companies will continue to push for improved welfare standards. Moving forward, the key is focusing not just on the systems themselves but also on how producers can transition while still remaining economically viable. Otherwise, the sustainability discussion is moot.
Lianne (Lia) Appleby will serve as editor of Canadian Poultry while Kristy Nudds is on maternity leave, beginning this month. She comes to the magazine from Hybrid Turkeys, a division of Hendrix Genetics, in Kitchener, Ont., where she specialized in corporate marketing and promotions. Prior to this, Lianne worked in public relations for the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association for five years. She began her career with the Chicken Farmers of Ontario.
She holds a BSc. and MSc. from the University of Guelph, and completed her Masters thesis on broiler nutrition under the guidance of Dr. Steve Leeson. She is looking forward to immersing herself in the world of the poultry producer and learning more about the industry. She resides in Rockwood, Ont.
When the Big Bend Colony decided to build a new layer barn with enriched housing in 2009, it was done with the future in mind.
Canadian Poultry magazine visited the colony, located south of Lethbridge, Alberta, this past spring to talk with members about their experience with this new type of housing. Big Bend was the first in North America to order an installation of an enriched system.
“It wasn’t a quick decision,” says Joe Kleinsasser of Big Bend. Although he’s not the chicken boss — that job has been held for the last 11 years by George Gross — Joe Kleinsasser has been involved with the layer operation and currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Egg Farmers of Alberta.
Looking to replace its old layer barn, which housed just over 10,000 layers in a conventional caging system, Kleinsasser says the colony knew it didn’t want to have to upgrade in five to 10 years time, so they looked to the types of housing systems being used in Europe. Although installing conventional-type cages again would have meant building a smaller barn, “we didn’t want to do that,” he says.
The idea of installing an aviary was decided against because it was “too labour intensive” and they were worried about having to deal with floor eggs, which they felt was a food safety concern. Kleinsasser says they also did not feel that the science had proven the benefits of an aviary, and they saw European producers were moving away from loose housing systems and going back to enriched.
The colony leased an additional 8,000 birds (bringing the total close to 20,000) and built a new barn with Big Dutchman’s Colony Cage System (known as Avech), which provides 116 square inches per bird. Sixty birds are housed within each 146x46 inch unit, and share a large nesting area and perches.
The units offered a scratch area through the use of a rubber scratch pad, however Gross and Kleinsasser say that the scratch pads have since been removed because they were collecting too much dirt. They noted that the birds did use this area, and they would include a scratch area again if the mats were proven to stay clean. After viewing a presentation given by Dr. Tina Widowski, an animal welfare professor at the University of Guelph and the current Canada Chair for Poultry Welfare for the Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) at the Egg Farmers of Alberta annual meeting, they are considering using a flat plastic scratch mat, something Widowski has been utilizing in her studies on enriched housing. Her preliminary research shows that these mats stay much cleaner than the rubber mats (which have piles that can collect dirt).
Gross says that they have had little problem with eggs laid out of the nesting area, estimating that 95 per cent are laid within the nest area. As for production, over three flocks they have averaged 98 per cent, which is “an improvement over our last system,” says Gross. He says there is little fluctuation in production, and mortality has been reduced by half.
When they placed the first flock, Kleinsasser says, they “tried their own research” and increased the density in several of the colony units to 65 or 70 birds. “We didn’t notice any real changes in bird behaviour or production,” he says. However, the first flock was “flightier” (the birds were a Shaver breed) — three subsequent flocks have been Lohmann and H&N, which are calmer, he says.
One of the biggest improvements they have noticed is that the birds have better feather covering than those housed in the old layer barn, even when only a few weeks away from end of lay. “The birds are in better condition, and they look good,” says Kleinsasser. The birds are also more relaxed, he says. Occasionally he will notice birds with their legs stretched out and he feels “there is no way they would be at 98 per cent production” if they were not relaxed.
The birds are more active within the enriched system, and Gross says that feed consumption has gone up a little, but “not substantially.” However, he says that a learning curve for him was timing the feedings so that the birds would eat enough. He and Kleinsasser feel there is so much for the birds to do, that adding an extra feeding (five times per days versus four times a day in the old barn) was necessary to keep the birds focused on eating.
Big Bend raises about 10,000 pullets, and the other 10,000 are purchased. All are cage-reared, but “have no trouble adapting” to the enriched system, says Kleinsasser. The pullets are placed at 19 weeks of age and adapt to the nest area very well, he says.
When the new barn to house the enriched system was built, the colony also built a feed mill to produce its own feed for the layers as well as its hog operation. The mill uses a micro ingredient feed batching method, blending wheat grown on the colony with purchased canola and soybean meal, canola oil, and premix, which has been formulated by a local poultry nutritionist. Although the feed mill is located near the hog barn, when feed mixed for the layers or pullets is ready, it is transported to the layer and pullet barns underground.
Gross says being able to make his own feed has allowed for greater consistency. Although the initial capitol cost to install enriched housing was high (about 40 per cent greater than that of conventional housing), the enriched housing combined with greater feed control has had “great benefits for production.”
The hens produce about 12,000 dozen eggs per week and cracks are less than two percent, and undergrades are less than three per cent — a great improvement over the old barn, says Kleinsasser.
The colony has also begun receiving a premium for the eggs. Their grader, Burnbrae, began marketing eggs from Big Bend Colony’s enriched housing under the brand name “Nestlaid” in Safeway stores and some Sobeys stores throughout the province.
Although many people who came to an open house held by the colony in 2009 thought Big Bend was rushing into enriched and the industry wasn’t there yet, Kleinsasser says, “installing such a system is a very positive thing for the industry.”
In 2012 we celebrated the 40th anniversary of supply management in Canada. Ironically, it was also a year supply management faced some of its fiercest attacks from media and economic groups.
Most of the attacks stemmed from speculation that supply management would be “on the table” if Canada was allowed to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). A similar argument was made for Canada’s participation in free-trade talks between the European Union (EU) and Canada, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
Although what is being discussed at the TPP and CETA negotiations has so far remained a secret (at the time of writing this column), our federal government has remained steadfast in its support of supply management.
Many political commentators do believe the federal government when it says it will continue to support supply management, but they also believe that the supply-management system needs to evolve in order for that support to be maintained in the long term.
Maintaining both political and consumer support is “ripe for the picking,” according to Robin Horel, president and CEO of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council (CPEPC). Speaking at the Poultry Service Industry Workshop in Banff, Alta., last October and at an educational “school” held by Lohmann in Niagara Falls in September, Horel said the government is very receptive to supply management at this time. However, he feels that the system must be modernized and that “we need to take a hard look at where efficiencies can be made.”
In his talk on “Supply Management: The Next 40 Years”, Horel reviewed how and why supply management began – an important history lesson considering many farmers today producing under supply management are two to three generations removed from the chaos and “chicken-and-egg war” of the 1960s and 1970s.
But it has had some unintended consequences and the media and detractors are noticing, Horel said. Contentious issues such as interprovincial movement of chicken, quota value, allocation and retail prices will be difficult to defend unless we modernize our beliefs and let go of the this-is-the-way-things-have-always-been-done type of thinking.
That’s why the CPEPC has been working with its sector members on a strategic initiative that is attempting to address these issues while building on the trust it has established with customers and consumers, and we will have more information on this in future issues.
One of the greatest benefits of supply management has been the power it gives stakeholders to establish an environment that allows predictable, reasonable returns while tackling emergency preparedness, animal welfare and food safety issues more effectively and easily than other livestock and commodity sectors. However, it is the inability to resolve internal issues in order to clear the way for dealing with cost issues that could prove detrimental, said Horel.
Horel was candid in his comments about the challenges our industry faces, and although he didn’t know at the time of his talk just what results would come out of discussions with sector members, he was firm in his belief that the system needs to evolve and the industry needs to maintain its social licence with consumers or that covenant will be lost eventually.